Human toll of climate change


Sir, – When I think of climate change, I don’t think of it as an ambition or an agreement. I think of the young Ethiopian farmer that I met last year when I travelled to drought-stricken Tigray with the UN special envoy for climate change, Mary Robinson.

We were there to put a spotlight on the devastating human consequences of climate change and El Niño. What we saw was a land that was dusty, barren and lifeless. Nutrition centres run by Irish agencies Goal and Concern were teeming with mothers and their listless children who were sick and malnourished.

But among all the harrowing stories, one stood out. The story of a young Ethiopian farmer, who had battled against the odds for years to grow enough food to feed his mother and sisters. When the crops failed after a prolonged lack of rain, in desperation, he attempted to make the perilous journey to Europe. Like so many climate refugees travelling towards north Africa, his journey ended in disaster. His sister died on the road, he was arrested in Saudi Arabia and was deported to Ethiopia. He was back in Tigray, trying to start his life again. That’s climate change.

It is the face of the destitute farmer left with no choice but to flee or to starve. It is the mother who is trying to scrape enough to eat for her children during a two-month hunger gap that has now become three. It is the wide-eyed, wizened face of a starving baby so shocking to even the most hardened aid worker. It is the world’s poorest communities living close to the edges of oceans that will most certainly be washed away by floods in the future. That’s climate change.

We live in a world that is smaller and more interconnected than ever before. Ebola, migration, insecurity are not distant “over there” problems. They now come crashing onto our shores, fuelled by conflict, climate change but most of all neglect.

A retreat from these problems is a retreat from humanity, and when we make decisions today that deepened human suffering tomorrow, we erode our own humanity.

Paris was a golden moment in a time when we came together and said “enough”. It was an extraordinary pact between rich and poor nations, a promise to slow down and even halt the erosion of our planet.

President Donald Trump’s decision will not derail this ambition if the response is strong and unified enough.

In an uncertain world, one thing is certain, presidents come and go but the flame of humanity is eternal. – Yours, etc,


Concern Worldwide,

Chief Executive,

Camden Street Lower,

Dublin 2.